LONG BEACH — A crowded field of 22 candidates is vying for five open seats on the Long Beach Police Officers Assn. board in an election that could color the future of the union and its relations with the city.
Underlying the contest is a battle for the association's top spot between the current president and two potential challengers.
The election will likely determine what negotiating style the leaders of the 630-member union will adopt as they begin the lengthy process of renegotiating the group's contract with the city during the coming months.
Under the leadership of Mike Kunst, who has held the union presidency since 1983, the board has worked to establish a non-confrontational working relationship with department brass and city leaders.
But Kunst and four other board members are being challenged by several officers who say the union should adopt a more aggressive style in its dealings with city management.
Flamboyant Former President
Among them is Mike Tracy, the flamboyant former union president who resigned in 1983 after a seven-year reign, when he lost the confidence of the board's majority. Although Tracy insists that he is currently interested only in winning a spot on the board, other candidates contend that he is eager to ascend again to the union's top spot.
A third candidate has risen from the pack as a potential contestant for the presidency. He is Capt. Douglas Drummond, a 27-year veteran of the department who recently took the Police Department to court for passing him over for promotion. Drummond said he would contribute to the association as president until his scheduled retirement in three years.
The fight for the presidency, however, hinges on the board election. Ballots were distributed to union members Dec. 1 and will be counted Dec. 16. The five highest vote-getters will serve two-year terms on the 11-member board. Following the election, the board will pick the president.
List of Candidates
Besides Kunst, board members seeking reelection are Sgts. Tim Chamberlain and Dan Stowe and Officers Dan Mallonee and Mike Minton.
The challengers are Tracy, Drummond, Sgts. Max Baxter, Terry Holland, Robin Klein and Ken Wagner, Lts. Bart Day and Richard Ostling, and Officers Dennis Bracken, Al Covarubias, Mike Green, Todd Houser, Harry Kartinen, Larry Legros, Tim Nicholson, Richard Questel, and Tim Uribe.
The top contenders for the presidency agree that the question of leadership comes down to a matter of style.
Kunst, 43, has favored a low-profile approach in negotiations with the city hierarchy, picking his battles carefully and then waging them on a low-key basis.
Tracy was anything but benign during his tenure at the union helm. It was Tracy, a 22-year veteran, who led a push by the association to replace then-Chief Carl Caulkins, an effort that helped prompt Caulkins' resignation in 1979.
During his days as union president, Tracy wore his hair long and had a full beard, favored Hawaiian shirts and a confrontational negotiating style. The beard is gone now and the hair is shorter. Tracy, 43, says he is a "much different person" today, although he still sees a need for the union's leaders to adopt an aggressive style.
"I was effective as president," he said. "I think that's what a person should be judged on, not the type of shirt they wear."
Even if elected to the board, Tracy said, he would lack sufficient support to be appointed president. But he feels that his election to the board would send a clear message that the union needs to be "more pro-active."
Tracy says Kunst and other association leaders have "given away important contract language" without a fight. In addition, he maintains that Kunst has shut the association's rank-and-file members out of the decision-making process.
Ocean Cruise to Mexico
Finally, Tracy has criticized Kunst for taking an ocean cruise to Acapulco, Mexico, with five other board members and paying for it with union dues.
Kunst chafes at such charges. The cruise, he said, was part of a "stress seminar" held by a state police association in lieu of an annual conference it normally sponsors in Lake Tahoe. The cruise cost the union less than the convention, Kunst said.
He also denies the association has given up any ground under his leadership. The union's members, he said, have continued to take part in the decision-making process.
"If you list my accomplishments and Tracy's accomplishments, I think mine would be every bit as impressive if not more so," Kunst said. "The only thing I haven't done is to be loud and vocal and give an impression I'm accomplishing something I'm not."
Kunst said that Tracy has not changed, pointing to the former president's tactic of "attacking the incumbents" during the election.
'Bunch of Militants'
"Under Tracy, we were pictured in the community as a bunch of militants," Kunst said. "This election could have an impact on how the community perceives the policeman. Is the policeman a true professional or is he a rabble-rousing militant?"